In his address during the Sunday Morning Session of the recent General Conference President Nelson said:
“Thirty-six years ago, in 1979, President Spencer W. Kimball made a profound prophecy about the impact that covenant-keeping women would have on the future of the Lord’s Church. He prophesied: “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.””
Sheri L. Dew used the same quote in her address “We Are Women of God” during the October 1999 General Women’s Meeting, and the quote originates from President Kimball’s address “The Role Of Righteous Women” given in 1979, as President Nelson remarked, at a Women’s Fireside. Because President Kimball was himself in hospital, his address was read by his wife Camilla Kimball.
I remember hearing Sheri Dew use the quote and I have heard it many times since. Each time I wonder just what precisely those ‘happy ways’ are meant to be. With President Nelson’s address the question screams ever more loudly: what happy ways? How are the women in the church distinct and different in happy ways?
It is only now, being both too young and geographically far from the events surrounding the ERA and church opposition to it in the 70s USA, that I am aware of the context of the original address. It seems that 1979 was an important year so far as activism inside the church was concerned. In September 1979 ERA supporter Sonia Johnson addressed the American Psychological Association on the topic “Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church”, which had received media attention, and was apparently the catalyst for her excommunication by the end of that year. That context certainly alters my view of the original statement, as does my reading of the full address, surrounded on either side by the suggestion that women who want anything outside home and family are selfish and after the adulation of the world:
“…Let other women pursue heedlessly what they perceive as their selfish interests. You can be a much needed force for love and truth and righteousness on this planet. Let others selfishly pursue false values, but God has given to you the tremendous tasks of nurturing families, friends, and neighbors, just as men are to provide. But both husband and wife are to be parents!
“Finally, my dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.
“Among the real heroines in the world who will come into the Church are women who are more concerned with being righteous than with being selfish. These real heroines have true humility, which places a higher value on integrity than on visibility…”
Sheri Dew uses the quote supporting changes being made to RS (the introduction of what became known as Home, Family and Personal Enrichment Meeting replacing what had been Homemaking Meeting), speaking about forsaking the world and building up our heavenly as opposed to earthly kingdoms because “[w]e no longer have the luxury of spending our energy on anything that does not lead us and our families to Christ.” Sadly their vision for the great good Relief Society might achieve with this change would appear to remain largely unfulfilled some 16 years later.
And so to President Nelson’s address. Perhaps the problem is that I am not the only one unable to understand what is meant by ‘happy ways’. President Nelson follows the quote with:
“Your virtue, light, love, knowledge, courage, character, faith, and righteous lives will draw good women of the world, along with their families, to the Church in unprecedented numbers!”
Are these the happy ways? I don’t know about you, but I see these qualities in many men and women outside the LDS church. They are certainly far from being unique. They can be found in Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and yes Atheists. Do those qualities attract me? Well, yes. On that basis perhaps I should be investigating their beliefs and practices. Distinct and different? Not so much. And with the frustration I’ve experienced, can I honestly say the LDS church has anything better to offer them?
President Nelson’s address was frustrating in many, many ways, some of which have been addressed in other posts: here, here and here for instance. But for me the biggest personal irony came less than a week after his address was given: my observation that female autonomy to act within the temple (the only place women get to perform ordinances) has been eroded. It doesn’t bode well for the future, and it hurt my heart to see it. My take away to President Nelson’s plea that “We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices.” Only insofar as we are doing those things to facilitate the actions of men.
- What do you think the happy ways are?
- Do you feel happy or frustrated in your interactions at church?
- What do you make of the context of the original statement?
- What have you observed?